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« No Slow Dancing | Main | De Young Museum Impressions »

November 16, 2005

Naptime

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Fan though I am of my native country, there are some things about the USA that can drive me nuts. How literal-minded we often are ... Our ambivalence towards culture ... The way we let financial and economic considerations make so many of our decisions ... Our endlessly conflicted feelings about pleasure.

Example for today: napping. I've been on vacation for the last week. On not one of these days have I failed to take a nap -- and each one of these naps has been a blissful indulgence, as luscious and glorious as the best wine, a perfect afternoon on the beach, bittersweet chocolate, or a hot-'n'-heavy make-out session. I nod off as if into the bosom of the Great Mother herself, and I wake up feeling nothing more articulate than "Oh, yeah, baby, that was goooooood."

It seems to me that such experiences need no justification -- that "intensity of pleasure" and "deep satisfaction" are self-evidently things to be desired, enjoyed, cherished, and respected. Discussing such pleasures can be a challenge, though. What's to be said about them? Informed and talented food and travel writers can analyze and evoke something of what food and travel experiences are like. But they're pros. How can the rest of us express and compare notes about simple-but-deep pleasures? Hey, rhapsodizing, chortling lewdly, rolling the eyes in smug self-satisfaction, and sitting there with a stoned expression all work for me. By the way: we have food and travel writers. Where are our "sleep writers"?

So how does America contend with the napping question? As far as I can tell, this important topic is dealt with in the following ways:

  • Some see napping as a reflection of a failing. If you were doing everything right, you wouldn't need to nap. This stems from the American conviction that a person ought to be bursting with dynamism 24/7, and if he isn't then something is dreadfully wrong.

  • Some see napping as an aspect of a larger problem that needs to to be addressed and licked: "Today, in the news -- fatigue, and how to overcome it."

  • To some of a scientific bent, napping is strange -- a peculiarity to be investigated. We aren't perfect robots: Let's try to explain why not!

  • To others, napping is a productivity question. A person who naps isn't wasting time. No, he's doing what needs to be done to be even more productive than he'd otherwise be.

  • And then there's the "it's good for you," napping-as-health crowd.

Coming up with excuses for napping -- how pathetic is that? It's like persuading yourself that you eat chocolate for the phytochemicals. In my Googling, the only people I found who praised napping for the sheer joy of the act (or non-act) were New Age-ish types. And ain't that America: on the one hand, literal-minded economics/productivity/science/health experts, and on the other a beleaguered, ragtag group of of crystals-and-incense freaks. Sigh.

I'm glad to know that my naps are good for my health. I certainly feel better after I've napped. And I often find that I work better after a nap. But -- and gangway, because I'm going to say it loud 'n' proud -- the real reason I nap is that I love napping. It's one of my very favorite activities. Dozing off for an hour or two in the middle of the day is, IMHO, yumminess itself. I view napping not as a failing or a problem, let alone as a way to prepare for my next great accomplishment. I view it instead as a pleasure to be pursued for its own sake, right up there with art, sex, travel, friendship, and love.

In my view, napping can even involve a degree of daring and commitment, at least of a daring-to-let-go sort. Halfway-related: I'm a bit of a devotee of Tantric and Taoist approaches to sex. One thing that I've found in my very limited adventures is that the biggest fear some girls have of partaking in these practices isn't that they'll turn out to be too weird, it's the fear of falling asleep. I've found that many girls are afraid that -- when the moment comes and the magic happens -- they'll snooze off instead of attaining sex-goddesshood. In fact, this is sometimes exactly what happens. You have got to be willing to take that risk. Entering the Tantric/Taoist zone requires letting go of your everyday mindset and tuning in to the moment, whatever the moment happens to be. Many Americans are addicted to the idea that if only they could clear the desk of all outstanding chores, they'd explode with shiney and dazzling energy. But what if you discovered that what the moment really holds for you is fatigue? The possibility can apparently be quite a threat to the American go-getting ego.

A small bouquet of sleep and napping facts-and-links:

  • One recent study concluded that 65% of Americans don't get enough sleep.

  • Some famous people who were enthusiastic nappers: JFK, Winston Churchill, Thomas Edison, Napolean Bonaparte, Johannes Brahms, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton.

  • NASA researchers think that a daily 45 minute nap is an excellent thing.

  • Wikipedia doesn't have an entry on napping, but it does have one on power napping.

  • Alertness Solutions in Cupertino, California markets "sleep solutions" to businesses. They're big advocates of workplace napping.

  • But the Europeans and Latin Americans are still devoted to their naps, aren't they? Perhaps not as much as they once were. Salon's Liz Hille reports that, what with globalization and economic pressures, much of the world is converting to American-style work hours -- which means shorter lunchtimes. Sad statistic: fewer than 25% of Spaniards still take a daily siesta.

  • What is all this you sometimes read about dreaming and non-dreaming sleep anyway? I've never awakened from any sleep -- whether a five-minute bit of shuteye or a ten-hour marathon -- without being aware that I've been dreaming.

  • Yoga instructor Jill Murphy Long offers a book entitled, "Permission to Nap." It sounds very femme-centric. What is it about being a woman that makes gals talk in terms of giving themselves "permission" to do this or that?

  • Sleep expert Mark Rosekind thinks that the ideal nap lasts for either 45 minutes or two hours. Naps of in-between lengths scramble REM and non-REM sleep.

  • Headquarters for everything sleep-related -- except perhaps the pleasure of it -- is The National Sleep Foundation.

  • A psych prof, Bill Anthony, has written two books about napping, "The Art of Napping" and "The Art of Napping at Work." (Me, I've been known to curl up on the floor under my desk.) Anthony and his wife run a company that offers "napping equipment" as well as "napping workshops."

  • Dr. James B. Maas -- who is sometimes referred to as America's top sleep expert -- thinks that most of us should be getting about 10 hours of sleep a day. Unfortunately, he thinks that the reason we should be getting such a lot of sleep is so that we can perform in "peak" ways. Maas offers a "test your sleep IQ" quiz here.

  • A great Randy Newman line from the 1970s went more or less like this: "I can't remember a single moment when I wouldn't rather have been lying down."

  • Via Isabella's Catalog, you can join a "Nap of the Month Club," which offers, among other goodies, "essential napping oils."

The dynamic and successful Wife claims that napping is hard on her nerves. Napping, she says, throws her sleep patterns off. On the other hand, my dynamic and successful sister, who recently retired, tells me that one of the best developments in her life since leaving the workplace has been the chance to nap whenever she pleases.

What are your own napping habits and preferences? And how about that America, eh? Why do we have such trouble allowing ourselves to enjoy life's little pleasures in simple, direct, and honest ways?

Best,

Michael

posted by Michael at November 16, 2005




Comments

BRAP (my own neologism). Definition: a nap taken before, during or after Breakfast.

Those 10:00-11:00AM naps are just beyond compare. If you haven't taken a few braps, you haven't lived. (More on my morning rituals

Posted by: Robert Nagle on November 16, 2005 05:44 AM



I think my favorites would have to be the post-yardwork Sunday afternoon naps.

Aside from that my favorite sleeping habit is the total indulgence of reading a book and falling asleep doing it without fretting over whether you'll try to stay awake or not. Unfortunately this type of sleep/nap can backfire, as it means leaving the lights on, and I tend to wake up with a bit of eyestrain if facing the light when it happens.

To be my utilitarian self, I have to ask why the business world would want it any other way. I think most people have a severe lull in energy around noontime and after lunch, and working against that is hard. I hope in the next few years with even better communications technology we'll see even more places taking the telecommuting route and the design-your-own-schedule (but just be sure to be here from X:00 to Y:00) type of scheduling.

Posted by: . on November 16, 2005 06:35 AM



The singe great thing about being selfemployed is that I can work according to my biorhythm. For me, the hours between 14.00 en 17.00 are useless for working. So, often I'll relax. And even nap if I must to.

Posted by: ijsbrand on November 16, 2005 07:45 AM



Thank god someone has finally had the courage to come out in praise of napping. I've commented lengthily on my blog here:

http://www.ghunka.com/index.cgi/Miscellaneous/napping.html

Finally, we can come out of the closet.

Posted by: George on November 16, 2005 08:33 AM



As with yoga, chacun a son gout. Napping isn't for everyone. Short naps leave me groggy and make sleep difficult at night; long naps feel good but disrupt my sleep cycle for days. Like ijsbrand I feel a slump around lunch time, but prefer to deal with it by avoiding heavy meals and being physically active.

I think there's a great deal of individual physiological variation in these matters.

Posted by: Jonathan on November 16, 2005 09:08 AM



Sleep is a waste of time. It's not that I don't like to sleep but I hate losing all those hours when I could have been doing something.

Posted by: Lynn S on November 16, 2005 09:12 AM



Afternoon naps for me generate more intense and wonderfully bizarre dreams. As near to a mystical experience as I seem capable of. Especially entertaining are all those "people" with distinct personalities and features with who I encounter and converse with, creatures who exist only in that twilight realm.

Posted by: Tim B. on November 16, 2005 09:24 AM



One of the more amusing features of commuting on the Long Island Rail Road - okay, the _only_ remotely amusing feature of that horror show - is seeing how some riders conk out with their heads leaning back and their mouths gaping wide open. Younger women seem especially prone to ending up in this ludicrous posture.

Posted by: Peter on November 16, 2005 09:26 AM



I do enjoy an afternoon lie down. I also like sitting in a darkened movie theater, even when--perhaps especially when--it's a beautiful day outside. A day your mother would typically kick you out of the house to get some fresh air.

Posted by: Rachel on November 16, 2005 10:53 AM



It's all about guilt. We're still a guilt driven culture. We have to earn the right to exist. Which is madness, of course.

Go ahead and nap. I won't tell. :)

Posted by: ricpic on November 16, 2005 11:09 AM



It's all about guilt. We're still a guilt driven culture. We have to earn the right to exist. Which is madness, of course.

Go ahead and nap. I won't tell. :)

Posted by: ricpic on November 16, 2005 11:09 AM



It's all about guilt. We're still a guilt driven culture. We have to earn the right to exist. Which is madness, of course.

Go ahead and nap. I won't tell. :)

Posted by: ricpic on November 16, 2005 11:09 AM



It's all about guilt. We're still a guilt driven culture. We have to earn the right to exist. Which is madness, of course.

Go ahead and nap. I won't tell. :)

Posted by: ricpic on November 16, 2005 11:09 AM



It's all about guilt. We're still a guilt driven culture. We have to earn the right to exist. Which is madness, of course.

Go ahead and nap. I won't tell. :)

Posted by: ricpic on November 16, 2005 11:09 AM



Oops. Sorry.

Posted by: ricpic on November 16, 2005 11:10 AM



MB:

Why, you hippy you. Actually, though, the term hippy won't fly because your screeds in favor of pleasure end up having a rather puritanical tone. It's almost as if you're sort of a New Leftist of pleasure, out to waylay the Protestant Ethic on the orders of the International.

Secretly, you probably want to write on Max Weber...ah, come on, admit it.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on November 16, 2005 11:11 AM



As a child who grew up around adults, I always felt I was missing out on something cool when I was put down for a nap. And given the adults in question, I'm sure I was right.

I wonder whether my difficulty napping now is a holdover from those days or just Calvinist B.S. After all, my father, he of 4 hours of sleep/night, functioned only b/c of frequent napping. Once, he actually excused himself from a meeting for 1/2 an hour and took a nap.

Of course, he had severe Crohn's, so everyone thought he was in the bathroom. Then again, who cares if it nets you a nap?

Posted by: communicatrix on November 16, 2005 11:49 AM



When I was in Kindergarten the teacher had us unroll our small rugs on the floor and lay there on them for maybe 10 minutes each day. Most of us fidgeted through the ordeal. But one day, one of the boys actually fell asleep. The rest of us found that hilarious.

I leave interpretation of the meaning of this to the rest of you.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on November 16, 2005 11:51 AM



To .,

Use a light within arm's distance, easy to turn off.

I read lots of public domain books with ebookwise 1150. It's backlit (so I can read in the dark), and turns off within 3 minutes if you haven't turned a page.

Posted by: Robert Nagle on November 16, 2005 12:01 PM



Another American attitude that bums me out. We must be up, alert, and achieving at every possible moment at our productive, useful, lucretive, socially enhancing, completely fulfilling jobs. And we can't "waste" time on culture... Right. Can we just go back in time and smack the Puritans? And I say this as a law firm lawyer who spends most of her time productive (tired, arty or not!). All in all I'd rather be reading a book and then letting it put me to sleep for an hour!

Posted by: MJ on November 16, 2005 12:01 PM



Another American attitude that bums me out. We must be up, alert, and achieving at every possible moment at our productive, useful, lucretive, socially enhancing, completely fulfilling jobs. And we can't "waste" time on culture... Right. Can we just go back in time and smack the Puritans? And I say this as a law firm lawyer who spends most of her time productive (tired, arty or not!). All in all I'd rather be reading a book and then letting it put me to sleep for an hour!

Posted by: MJ on November 16, 2005 12:01 PM



"Where are our 'sleep writers'?"

I seem to recall Fran Leibowitz having written in praise of sleep ("death without the responsibility"). And the psychic borderlands of slumber are sumptuously explored in the work of Jungian dreamscapist, Jim Woodring. I find "The Book of Jim" to be a wonderful naptime companion, as are Woodring's "Frank" chronicles.

Posted by: Chip Smith on November 16, 2005 12:05 PM



One of my favorite New Yorker cartoons portrayed two cats talking with each other with one cat saying, "It's the naps you don't take that you regret the most."

Posted by: Michael Mackin on November 16, 2005 12:26 PM



One of my many goals after I retire (which is way too far away) is to nap. Again. The old becomes the young and 360 degrees will hopefully bring me back to a comfortable bed or couch and a milk induced langorous ride to Napland. Might even have to pull out the ol' sheepskin to cover myself.
Sleep. Cheapest thrill going.

Posted by: DarkoV on November 16, 2005 12:57 PM



Women "need permission" for everything and are more worrisome b/c they're more valuable for reproduction: one woman and fifty men couldn't reproduce that much, while fifty women and one man could. So they're guarded more closely than are expendable men, which makes them feel like they've got to live up to higher expectations than men. Just like the bright student in the class feels more pressure to conform than the going-nowhere student. This desire to please is probably one reason why girls do better in schoolwork than boys, even when the boys on average are smarter in some subject matter (like math).

This is another one of those sex differences that should be taught early on so that we can better understand where the opposite sex is coming from. I've never heard my inner voices upbraid me with: "What kind of man would marry a woman who doesn't watch her weight? Who do you think you'll marry if you aren't cultured enough to know a foreign language? Who on Earth would be smitten with a napping slugabed?!"

Posted by: agnostic on November 16, 2005 01:40 PM



RE: “The singe great thing about being selfemployed is that I can work according to my biorhythm. For me, the hours between 14.00 en 17.00 are useless for working. So, often I'll relax. And even nap if I must to.”

I agree big time. I am a long time nap person, and my sweet spot is late afternoon naps lasting between 15 and 45 minutes, but rarely more than an hour max for peak renewal. And although I wouldn’t want my feet held to the fire as to it being statistically significant, I’ve known people in various highly physical occupations, including sailors, construction workers, press operators and stevedores who often would have afternoon naps either mid-shift or before dinner, while many people I know in more white collar occupations would lead a strict “no nap” lifestyle. But as with ijsbrand, a lot of self-employed people I know – and, oddly enough, some doctors and dentists but not lawyers – are big partisans of napping.

One very hot Southern California day, working at home, I looked out my window and saw a cat lying on the garage roof under the shade of a tree, on his or her back, napping happily. I laughed at how I was getting less and less productive while trying to work through the heat, surrendered to the wisdom of the feline, and joined the cat in a very restful siesta.

RE: agnostic – “Women "need permission" for everything and are more worrisome b/c they're more valuable for reproduction.”

You could also argue that women can afford to be more frivolous because they realize their value, while men have to live up to higher expectations. The 50 women with one man in your example can pretty much party hearty, but that one guy has got to be able to PERFORM, or he is totally useless.

Posted by: Alec on November 16, 2005 03:11 PM



"one woman and fifty men couldn't reproduce that much, while fifty women and one man could" Once when I was in law school, our local Federalist Society chapter sponsored a lecture on evolutionary biology and employement law, and the speaker, amidst his grab bag of rambles, said just that. I remember thinking "no shit, Sherlock" and hoping that he had more to offer in his home law school (one ranked about 100 slots below mine).

Get better explanations, or better analysis. This toast is cold.

Posted by: MJ on November 16, 2005 03:32 PM



"This desire to please is probably one reason why girls do better in schoolwork than boys, even when the boys on average are smarter in some subject matter (like math)."

Tangent here:

I think it has partially to do with that, but also partially to do with taking a more masculine sort of expression as hostile.

To wit: In middle school I started writing poetry, and became totally immersed in it and in my Norton Anthology (an old version that made no bones about including only European authors, and included perhaps one or two poems from the 70s as its nod towards modernism) and in the process learned more English/History/Literature/Prosody/Mythology than I ever had anywhere else.

By the time I reached high school my knowledge of mythology was pretty much cemented, and I wouldn't learn anything substantial about mythology until college (in which I learned that much of what was presumably taught to me in high school was oversimplification to the point of being untrue).

In high school we once had a test on Greek mythology, and I had been marked down on one of the questions, and I think this essentially brought my grade from 100% to 80% (The specifics are not clear, but it was a substantial difference).

I'm not trying to brag, but every student in the class knew that I knew more than them about mythology, yet they had gotten back grades that were higher than mine. Regarding the question that I had gotten wrong, it was structured in such a way that the teacher clearly wanted a particular answer, but that answer was not correct, so I chose the next best option (multiple choice).

When we went over the answers to the test in class, I stood up and confronted the teacher about this, and told him his answer was wrong. Now, I did get a little too confrontational by doing that in front of the class, but I was right and everyone knew it. The only reason why people chose that answer was to parrot back the answer that they knew was expected of them. Needless to say, the teacher became very angry with me, and my grade never was adjusted upward (even though I was right).

Posted by: . on November 16, 2005 06:57 PM



re: "Get better explanations, or better analysis."

OK, so you agree. It's a big part of why human females are more prone to seeking permission and worrying than human males. It's true; that's all that matters. Banal observations need to be stated b/c in the non-scientific areas of academia they usually contradict everybody's theory. Like maybe women seek permission more b/c they're accustomed to seeing so in Hollywood movies. Or maybe radical parenting could reverse the pattern.

Posted by: agnostic on November 16, 2005 08:08 PM



Ellen McArthur, the British woman who sailed solo around the world, was given a regimen of taking very short naps dozens of times a day to make up for the needed daily sleep requirements -- and did it very successfully. I think a nap time at work would be a great idea. Hey, it worked in nursery school!

Posted by: Neil on November 17, 2005 09:11 PM



Well, if Americans have such trouble allowing themselves to enjoy life's little pleasures, then why the increasing girth and chubbiness of said Americans? Chocolate is one type of little pleasure. I just think Americans need to learn how to be stylish with their sloth. A little siesta, a little wine with lunch instead of, I dunno, le big mac? Although, when I used to still eat beef, I liked le big mac just fine.

Anyhoo, the nice thing with hanging around the medical types is that many were so chronically sleep deprived as residents that they become obsessed with sleep. Napping is perfectly understood in this context. And, double anyhoo, my Indian parents loved to nap, which I think is both cultural and specific to their particular personalities. My father always seemed to be sleeping and I never realized until I was an adult that he would write his math papers in the middle of the night and spend the part of the day sleeping. So, I have no American induced napping guilt. I love zonking out on the couch.

Posted by: MD on November 17, 2005 11:12 PM



I had a client once, high echelon broker in major financial corp, who requested a small sleeping alcove in his [corner] office, acoustic insulation plus drapery black-outs included.

He got his wish, but only because of revenue he was bringing to his Co. The rest of us..oh..we can always daydream, don't we?

Posted by: Tatyana on November 18, 2005 11:15 AM



Once I passed the age of 4 and didn't "have to" take naps anymore, I have loved them. It didn't even occur to me that they were something to get over. But when I was really little and had to come in from the sandbox to take a nap, I loathed and resented them. So...there is something about them not being "expected"...

Posted by: annette on November 19, 2005 08:43 PM



Having slept on this subject, I submit that "napping" is a matter of letting the universe (and Morpheus) rock you for a little while and not having to worry about who's supposed to be driven somewhere, what time to turn the roast on, whether the cat is in or out, and etc.

Also, we know that one's conscious mind is only about 5% (maybe) or so of what actually goes on in one's brain. Even when not dreaming, things are happening down in there someplace and it's often quite useful later when one returns to consciousness. Things solve themselves. Options surface. One doesn't always have to be in charge and pushing.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on November 30, 2005 10:34 PM



In a little burst of synchronicity, the radio just played an interview with Linda Ronstadt in which she said she always naps for a bit in the afternoon. In the early years, she curled up under the console. Later, when she was producing, she made sure there was a big comfy sofa in the room. She spoke of the "place" not quite asleep, not quite awake, where major creative dilemmas are resolved. (This hypnogogic sleep has been studied quite a bit -- pretty fascinating.)

And then I thought of Lyndon Johnson being interviewed and him being asked about his custom of sleeping after lunch even when the world was going to pieces. Since he worked at home, he said he put on his "jammies," and said to himself, "All right, Lyndon, naptime." And then he slept. In other words, he took himself back to a time of innocence before all the trouble began.

Prairie Mary

Posted by: Mary Scriver on December 1, 2005 01:42 AM






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